Published on March 16th, 2011 | by Ruth0
Bread Accessories: Olive Oil, Vinegar, And Wine
It’s said that man cannot live on bread alone, but what if you added olive oil and wine to the picture? Throw in bacon and some fresh vegetables from the farmer’s market orBerkeley Bowl, and you have some of our recent meals. Good olive oil, it turns out, improves pretty much any food. Recently we’ve tried out several types, along with a few vinegars some wine and a lovely palate-cleansing beverage.
One of our all-round favorites was California Olive Ranch’s 2010 Limited Edition Reserve. The unfiltered oil is a little cloudy. Because it’s bottled directly from the press it has stronger flavor, but needs to be used within fairly quickly to get the full extra flavor advantage. Use lots of olive oil? Oh no! The flavor is bright and rich, but not overpowering. We enjoyed it drizzled over fresh buffala mozzarella with thinly sliced tomatoes, purple basil and a sprinkling of fleur de sel, served with toasted bread. The Limited Edition is sold out for this year, but mark your calendars for next year’s batch, due in November. For now, try out some of California Olive Ranch’s other offerings. We found this year’s versions of both the Miller’s Blend and the Arbequina, which we have tried in the past, delicious.
We were intrigued by the palate diversity of O Olive Oil, so we tried a range of citrus flavors. The bay-area company has been making organic oils and vinegars since 1995. At our tasting, we tried Meyer Lemon, Tahitian Lime, Clementine, and Blood Orange olive oils. The Tahitian Lime was unanimously our group’s favorite. It was clean, clear and limey, without tasting artificial. We liked it both for dipping bread and, later, found it added great flavor to our pork chops, along with sprigs of rosemary. We liked the Meyer lemon too, though liked it better drizzled over oven-roasted asparagus than alone or with bread. Our group was split on the Clementine and Blood Orange oils. They were heavy, and the citrus bogged down the olive oil a bit, rather than smoothly complimenting it. On the other hand, several people enjoyed the novelty, and pointed out they’d be fantastic with a beef roast, or some other meat that could hold it’s own with it.
We also tasted an assortment of B. R. Cohn’s oils and vinegars. The Balsamic & Herb Dipping Oil drew us in right away. It was exactly what you want when you’re looking for something to pour into a bowl to serve with a nice crusty ciabatta. We were also impressed by the Fig Balsamic. We’re big fans of thick balsamic vinegars with a bit of fruit. This one was great on it’s own, and put a gourmet twist on our kitchen-picnic meal when sprinkled on bread with olive oil, with assorted deli meats and organic greens as filler. Add a side salad with fresh strawberries, a handful of potato chips and a couple slices of crisp dill pickle for a simple, satisfying meal. They also have a 25-year balsamic that we almost wanted to drink. It would be marvelous drizzled over vanilla gelato. The Raspberry Champagne Vinegar was also a hit – sour, but fruity, it would make a glorious summer salad dressing.
B. R. Cohn’s Organic Olive Oil was quite solid. The Tuscan was, ”Light, snappy, almost garlicky.” When it came to their flavored olive oils, however, we were disappointed. The Lime Olive Oil was metallic, with a nasty after-taste. When tasted head-to-head with the O’s Tahitian Lime, there was no comparison. The Unfiltered Olive Oil elicited comments in our group ranging from “Dirty-tasting,” to “Interesting,” to “It makes my throat feel scratchy.” Glad to have tasted it, but not sure that we’d buy. We also tried the Grapeseed Oil. To be honest, I’m not sure if we would like other grapeseed oils, but this one did not convert fans. Our take-home on B.R. Cohn – skip the oils, but run and grab the vinegars.
After our oil and vinegar tasting, we cooked our favorite variation on Pasta Carbonara – penne with sauteed red, yellow and green peppers, a sweet onion and mushrooms seasoned with cayenne, and crispy pieces of bacon, all covered in mashed-up softly poached eggs and, of course, a healthy dollop of olive oil (we went with the California Olive Ranch Limited Reserve) and a sprinkling of salt and pepper. Because our pasta was so rich, we decided to go with red wine. We paired it with Hall‘s well-balanced 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon (available for $44/bottle). The cayenne from the mushrooms brought out a spicy side to the wine, which was otherwise smooth and fruity, without being overly big or brassy. We tried it again another night without food and found it velvety, with hints of vanilla. At $44 dollars a bottle it isn’t a bargain, but it’s a solid, versatile wine that won’t disappoint. After seeing photos of a chandelier that looks like a roots system (“Chilean Red” by artist Donald Lipski), dazzling with 1500 Swarovski crystals, we’re looking forward to planning a trip up to the Napa vineyard.
We also sipped Hall’s 2009 Sauvignon Blanc ($22/bottle). It had a floral nose, and we almost expected it to be sparkling at first sip. The acidity was the striking characteristic for us. We liked the minerals, but found it lacking the clean after we were looking for. It softened with air, with some citrus notes emerging.
Speaking of beverages… Santasti is a fantastic new beverage created for clearing the palate (Available online for about $22/12 pack, plus tax.). A clear, lightly carbonated beverage, Santasti was formulated to balance sweetness, acidity and astringency. Unlike many sparkling waters, Santasti limits the mineral and salt content that contaminate your palate, rather than refreshing it. We were especially happy to run into the Santasti booth at the Zinfandel Festival. Halfway through tasting it provided a refreshing reset. We also enjoyed drinking the cucumber variety as a stand-alone drink.